Bike theft in Iowa City goes underreported


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Earlier this semester, Madelyn Walsh was leaving her College Street apartment to go to class when she noticed her bike wasn't where she had locked it.

For the third time.

"I'm sure somebody out there has had numerous bikes stolen," the 20-year-old University of Iowa sophomore said. "But three is pretty unlucky."

Walsh didn't report any of her three bikes stolen; she said the thought never crossed her mind. And she might not be alone.

In Iowa City, there have been only five reported bike thefts between August and November this year. In 2009, there were also only five reported stolen bikes during the same time, according to statistics from UI police.

But people involved in the local bicycle community said these numbers are not representative of the bicycle theft problem in Iowa City.

Mark Wyatt, the executive director of the Bike Coalition, said he hears about stolen bikes often.

"It really is predominantly a problem with students," he said, noting students sometimes leave bikes on home porches. "Porches are notorious for bike theft."

Iowa City police Lt. Jim Steffen said he doesn't believe bike theft is a growing problem in Iowa City.

Iowa City residents can register their bicycles with either the University Parking Office or the Iowa City police.

In most cases, police will not actively search for missing bikes, instead cross-checking those turned in with records of reported thefts.

"If it is a unique high-dollar bike, patrol may be alerted," Steffen said. "But for the most part, recovered bikes are cross-checked."

Bike theft is a problem in other university towns as well.

Iowa State University had 21 reported bike thefts from August to November, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison had 26 stolen bikes reported in the same time span, according to their campus police departments.

"There's no specific type, just those that are easy to get," Steffen said. "For the most part, they are crimes of convenience."

Michael Chamberlain, the owner of bike shop The Broken Spoke, 602 S. Dubuque St., said he relies on his intuition to decide whether a bike he's looking to purchase for resale has been stolen. He agrees bicycle theft is a problem locally.

"I can't ever prove that a bike is stolen or not based on my intuition, so I just end up telling the seller I'm not interested," Chamberlain said. "I'd rather turn down a legit bike based on my feelings than accidentally buy a stolen bike."

UI sophomore Bryan Norris, 20, walked down to the parking garage of his apartment building earlier this semester to find the $150 blue-and-silver Schwinn bicycle, which he'd locked up, was missing.

He walked around the garage, assuming he had simply parked the year-old bike that had belonged to his brother somewhere else and had forgotten where.

"Finally, I realized it had been stolen," he said. "I was devastated."

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